Insights from the UK and beyond
Antisemitism at highest level since WWII, conference hears
Synagogues have been burnt, threatening graffiti daubed on buildings, verbal threats shouted across the street and hate emails sent, the 100 policymakers from nearly 40 countries attending the first London Conference for Combating Antisemitism were told.
The rise in antisemitism has been a feature of the past 35 years, Irwin Cotler, once counsel to Nelson Mandela and the former Canadian minster of justice and attorney general, told delegates.
But it is now a “new sophisticated, globalising, virulent and even lethal antisemitism, reminiscent of the atmospherics of the 30s, and without parallel or precedent since the end of the Second World War”, Cotler said.
Earlier this year, frigures from the Community Security Trust, a charity working to protect Jews in the UK, recorded 541 antisemitic incidents in Britain in 2008, the third highest annual total since it began recording incidents in 1984.
In Germany, a Jewish cemetary is desecrated once a week on average, Petra Pau, vice-president of the Bundestag said.
Natan Sharansky, former deputy prime minister of Israel, said the situation in Europe had become worse during the past couple of years, especially the past year.
Jason Kenney, minister of citizenship, immigration and multiculturalism in Canada, described how he had walked through the building where Rabbi Gavriel Holzberg and his wife Rivkah were tortured and slaughtered during the Mumbai attacks last year.
“As I later looked out on Mumbai…I marvelled to think that in this huge, teeming city of 20 million the killers had meticulously, deliberately sought out to target this one rather obscure, peaceful place, and this particular man and his family,” he said.
“Why did they do so? Because and only because they were Jews, and as such because they represented all the Jews.”
Antisemitic incidents have also been on the rise in Canada, up 11 percent in 2007 on the previous year, reflecting a doubling of the numbers reported during the past five years.
Cotler said there was a new antisemitism which overlapped the classical antisemitism, but was distinguishable from it.
While the goal of the old antisemitism was to rid the world of Jews, now it was to rid the world of the state of Israel, he said.
This genocidal antisemitism is practised on different levels including the state-sanctioned and state orchestrated level, terrorist movement level, and from the mosques and the media.
Last December’s incursion by Israeli forces into Gaza has seen a spike in attacks, the delegates, which included Jews and non-Jews, heard.
The Community Security Trust was reported as saying 250 antisemitic incidents in the four weeks after the military operation began compared with 27 incidents during the same period last year.
Pau said she was deeply concerned that some people who took part in peace demonstrations used antisemitic language while trying to promote the interests of the Palestinians.
“What is totally unacceptable is that Israeli policy is compared with Nazi policy,” she said through an interpreter.
While Israel is not above the law and must be held accountable for any violations of international law or human rights, people must differentiate between the politics of Israel and antisemitism, the conference heard.
Screening virulent anti-semitic messages on the Internet was one of the ways governments could attempt to stifle the rise, the delegates agreed in a joint declaration.
“The Internet, the globalisation of the media, a resurgence of the extreme right and an anti-Zionist hard left have combined to create a febrile environment, in which the spread of old and new anti-semitic theories and attitudes have been able to gain traction with alarming ease,” John Mann, a British policymaker and chair of the conference said.
Better education was another tool, especially in keeping the memory of the Holocaust alive as the number of survivors dwindles.
This is made more difficult in multi-cultural societies where children from different ethnic backgrounds ask “What has the Holocaust got to do with me?”
We must also not forget the growing number of victims of Islamophobia, said Andre Azoulay, a Jew who is counsellor to King Mohammed VI of Morocco.
“For me, the Israel-Palestinian issue is politic, antisemitism is ethic,” he said.
“I cannot just open my eyes to see that there is antisemitism and close my eyes where there is Islamophobia.”